Essential oils can lift your mood, make your home smell great and may even help with various conditions. They’re powerful so always use them carefully and check in with your health care provider before trying a new oil.
Always dilute essential oils in a “carrier oil” such as coconut or jojoba before applying them to your skin, Galper says. This prevents the highly concentrated oil from irritating it.
What are they?
Essential oils are liquid extracts of various potentially beneficial plants. They can be used in natural and alternative health practices such as aromatherapy and naturopathy to enhance wellness or cure illnesses.
They can be distilled from various parts of the plant—flowers, bark, leaves or fruit—by steaming or pressing. It takes several pounds of raw material to produce one bottle of oil.
Some researchers have found evidence that some essential oils, such as peppermint and ylang-ylang, help relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms and may ease headaches when applied topically. Others have linked essential oils to mood enhancement and stress relief, when inhaled.
But not all oils are created equal. The quality of oils on the market varies widely, according to Johns Hopkins. Look for ones that are pure and free of additives or diluents, especially if you plan to use them in a diffuser (small household appliances that emit scented vapor) or to apply to the skin.
How do they work?
Essential oils have psychological (affecting emotion), pharmacological (affecting body chemistry) and physiological (affecting bodily function and process) benefits. They can be used in a diffuser, inhaled directly or applied topically using a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba.
When applying oils to the skin, they are absorbed into the soft tissue and then into the bloodstream. When inhaled, the oils travel through the respiratory tract. When swallowed, they go through the digestive system and end up in the liver, says Johns Hopkins Medicine.
When buying essential oils, it’s important to find quality ones. Look for a label that says it has been distilled with clean methods and contains no added fragrances or chemicals. Also, be sure the oil is recommended for your use, and consult a certified aromatherapist to ensure proper dosage. A good aromatherapist should have a background in nursing or health care and have training from a reputable school, per the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.
How do I use them?
Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways, including inhalation or topical application. When applying them topically, it is important to make sure they are properly diluted with a carrier oil. Sweet almond oil, jojoba oil and avocado oil are good choices because they have mild scents that will not interfere with the oil’s therapeutic effects.
Many people use essential oils to boost their mood or for stress relief. However, Mack says it’s difficult to know which oil is best for each individual because the chemical composition of the oil can vary based on the plant and the distillation process.
Because the market for essential oils is unregulated, it’s important to choose high-quality oils. Look for the word “pure” on the label and avoid oils that contain filler ingredients or have descriptions like “fragrance” or “perfume,” which could indicate added chemicals (Umeh, 2016a). Also, avoid purchasing essential oils that are marked as being “for external use only.” This indicates they may have been diluted with other substances, such as petroleum distillates.
What should I avoid?
Essential oils are highly concentrated, and can cause serious damage if misused or improperly stored. As the popularity of these plant-based oils grows, so do concerns about their effectiveness and safety.
For instance, peppermint oil is used to relieve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms; lemon oil helps calm nerves and promote sleep; and lavender oil soothes headaches. But despite these benefits, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the purity or quality of essential oils, and many are not properly labeled.
Those that are not diluted and are applied directly to the skin can lead to an allergic reaction and cause a skin rash, and may even irritate your lungs or make your nose run. It’s also important to keep your oils safely out of reach of children, as they can be ingested, which can cause a range of toxic effects depending on the oil and its concentration. Also, avoid storing essential oils in bottles that have rubber bulbs incorporated into the cap as they can eat away at them and ruin the oil inside.